Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy got a nice welcome to the team’s new flagship radio station, sitting in studio for a couple segments on WXYT’s “Mike Valenti Show” on Wednesday afternoon.
In a meaty and non-contentious first appearance for about 24 minutes in a question-and-answer session with Valenti, Van Gundy addressed several pressing issues from the Pistons’ offseason, including the team’s move to downtown Detroit, Andre Drummond’s improvement, their salary-cap situation and the idea of tanking to get better draft picks.
Valenti asked about the Pistons’ roster situation in relation to the salary cap, where they’ll likely look to keep free agent Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, even if it means matching a max offer sheet and nearing the luxury tax.
“Would we like to make changes this summer? Absolutely. Is it a priority to be out trying to make changes? Absolutely. We need to make improvements,” Van Gundy said. “The part where I stop short is saying we’re committed to making changes. You need partners to make those deals.
“We’re not under the cap, so our way to make changes and get better is through trades. You can’t do that unilaterally and there’s not guys on our roster that we’re just going to dump for nothing. You have to search for deals that make your team better. It’s certainly a priority. I don’t think we need to change seven or eight guys.”
The Pistons finished 37-45 last season and missed the playoffs for the seventh time in the last eight years. But with a roster than Van Gundy assembled in his first three years as both team president and head coach — and just two years left on his contract — that he needs them to produce.
“We’re certainly looking and I like our core of guys; we need to get better. We’ve thought since the day I came here that the primary way for us to get better was through trades and smart lower-budget free-agent acquisitions and overall we’ve done a pretty good job of that,” he told Valenti.
“We want to make some changes — not wholesale changes — but we have to find those deals.”
Reiterating the team’s position from last year’s trade deadline, Van Gundy admitted that no one is untouchable, including cornerstones Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson.
The Pistons don’t have the flexibility to go after any of the premier free agents and if they do anything substantive this offseason, it likely would have to be in the trade market. They stand to lose backup center Aron Baynes, who likely will use his player option to get a more lucrative deal elsewhere. Backup wing Reggie Bullock is a restricted free agent and also likely will find a better deal with another team.
Without the cap flexibility, the Pistons would have to add through the draft, in which they have the No. 12 pick, and possibly through a trade that could offload some of the salary commitment.
On Drummond, Van Gundy said the biggest issue is increased expectations over the past two years, mostly because of his All-Star season in 2015-16 and the max contract Drummond signed last summer.
“I’m as guilty as anybody with this, but we tend to lose perspective on a guy like him because you see great talent. He hasn’t turned 24 years old yet,” Van Gundy said. “There are several guys in this draft that are older than he is. I’m the most guilty: I expect huge things from him and it doesn’t happen on a consistent basis — and there’s no question that it has to.
“It’ll define my time here and he’s a guy we have to be able to get through to and get him more consistent. He’s been better than what people give him credit for.”
Van Gundy pointed to increased numbers in most categories for Drummond in per-36-minute measurements, but Valenti interrupted when Van Gundy mentioned free throws. Drummond improved from 36 percent to 39 percent this season.
“He went from a guy on a rookie contract where those numbers looked good, to being a guy on a max contract where we expect more and they’re not good,” Van Gundy said. “Around him, things weren’t the same. He and Reggie Jackson were one of the best pick-and-roll combinations by the numbers in the NBA and Reggie was hurt and missed 30 games and was not nearly himself — and that hurt (Drummond).”
Valenti offered to have Van Gundy appear for a weekly segment during the season — and judging by Van Gundy’s candid answers and Valenti’s pointed questions, it would be a ratings hit.